The Shape of Things to Come?



A Detroit scene


The best current affairs magazine in the English-speaking world, bar none, is The Economist, which is based in London but offers genuinely global coverage—and generally omits the pop cultural fluff that takes up too much space in the likes of Time and the formerly-printed-magazine-known-as-Newsweek.  One of its editorials in the 16-22 March issue (406/8827) is entitled “The America that works: Luckily, dysfunction in Washington is only one side of America’s story.”  It’s well worth reading.


After noting that, if a budget solution is not found soon, the federal government will soon start defaulting on his bills, the magazine (which, curiously, refers to itself as a newspaper), observes that


This is the America that China’s leaders laugh at, and the rest of the democratic world despairs of.  Its debt is rising, its population is ageing in a budget-threatening way, its schools are mediocre by international standards, its infrastructure rickety, its regulations dense, its tax code byzantine, its immigration system hare-brained—and it has fallen from first position in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings to seventh in just four years.  Last year both Mr Obama and his election opponent, Mitt Romney, complained about the American dream slipping away.  Today, the country’s main businesses sit on nearly $2 trillion in cash, afraid to invest in part because corporate bosses cannot imagine any of Washington’s feuding partisans fixing anything.


I entertain no messianic delusions about what a single mortal human politician, however wonderful, can accomplish by himself.  But I can’t help thinking rather wistfully, still, about how different things might be looking now had Mitt Romney—a man who, plainly unlike our current president, actually understands the world of business and finance and who, while a Republican working with an 87% Democratic legislature, was a successful governor in the deepest blue of American blue states —been elected president.


The burden of the editorial is that much in America still works, and that some states (most of them run by Republicans, I might note, though The Economist doesn’t) are doing some very creative and positive things.  In other words, there’s still hope.  But the magazine is worried that Washington may kill that hope off.  And so am I.


Written north of Sandpoint, Idaho, on 23 March 2012.

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